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Tournament Of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Asia Paperback – 6 Dec 2001

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Tournament Of Shadows: The Great Game and the Race for Empire in Asia + The Great Game: On Secret Service in High Asia + Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Treasures of Central Asia
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Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (6 Dec 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349113661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349113661
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 3.9 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 360,662 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

In 1800 the frontier bases of the British and Russian empires were 2,000 miles apart; by 1900 the gap had diminished to a few hundred miles. Such was the nature of the struggle, or the "Great Game" as it became known, for mastery of Central Asia between Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia. The very name the "Great Game" has romantic echoes and Karl Meyer and Shareen Brysac's fascinating and readable account is peopled with long-forgotten adventurers and explorers who have left more than conquest to the generations that follow. There's the Russian Nikolai Przhevalsky who left his name to scores of flora and fauna, including the ancestor to the horse; not to mention the scores of plucky cartographic Brits who solved most of the riddles of Asia's geography. But behind the romance lies a darker more serious purpose. Although the Russians and the British never actually went to war over Asia, they fought a propaganda war, both at home and abroad, that has echoes of the Cold War. And as in the Cold War, there were scores of innocent victims. To protect its right--and it was seen as a right--to Empire, and India in particular, Britain brought about two wars in Afghanistan, invaded Tibet, took over Egypt and divided Persia into different spheres of influence. All this Meyer and Brysac recount with a loving, unfussy attention to detail but where they come into their own is in bringing the story up to date. For the Great Game continues, even though Britain has been replaced by the US. Throughout the Russian invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s the Americans were happy to fund anti-democratic guerrilla groups on the grounds they were more opposed to the Soviets than they were to the US. Ever since the Soviets withdrew, the American influence has lingered as dozens of well-armed rival factions continue to tear their country apart. As before, the Great Game is anything but a game for those directly involved. For them it is a matter of life and death. --John Crace --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Monumental . . . A remarkable achievement (Jan Morris, OBSERVER)

A scrupulously balanced and extremely readable chronicle . . . A book about cartography, achaeology, anthropology and several other things, as well as exploration and imperial lust (Geoffrey Moorhouse, GUARDIAN)

Terrific . . . Although this book is a big one, its pages race away (Nigel Jones, SUNDAY EXPRESS)

Entertaining, fluent and absorbing (INDEPENDENT ON SUNDAY)

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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 30 Jan 2001
Format: Hardcover
This book is a compilation of adventures. It is the biographical sum of those travelers who, on behalf of its colonial empires, they went into in Asia to obtain political knots with the autochthonous towns. British and Russian played their peculiar game of chess in a board that extended from the India to Siberia. But they were not the only ones. The authors dedicate many pages to the strange Nazi expedition that Himmler organized in 1938, and to the intervention of the CIA in the Tibet after its occupation by China. It is a magnificent work, full of ethnological details, myths and legends, reality and magic. It combines the political macrocosm from the big powers with the existential microcosm of their explorers. It also combines the geopolitics with the anecdote, the history with the intrigue. It is an amusing book, and easy reading. But it has, in my opinion, a small defect: their cartographic poverty. Such a remarkable edition had required clearer and more numerous maps.
On the other hand, this book offers us a general vision of a whole time: spies, murders, bandits, mystics, magicians, demons, lost cities, the East and the West in their purest contrast. If what we look for is a historical and interesting story of adventures, we will have guessed right with its reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Molerat on 12 Aug 2011
Format: Paperback
Scary - make errors in your review of this book and one of the authors will pop up and correct you. I shall endeavour to tread carefully, particularly as I'm not a colossal fan either.

This is a reasonably well-written popular account of the protracted cold war between Britain and Russia in Central Asia, variously called the Great Game or a Tournament of Shadows. Meyer & Brysac draw on journals, diaries, letters and official documents (not just secondary sources, as claimed elsewhere) to recount the adventures of the soldiers, explorers, archaeologists, mystics and miscellaneous tourists who criss-crossed this forbidding landscape between the 1820s and the 1950s, often in the service of one side or the other.

Other reviewers mention Peter Hopkirk's `The Great Game', as indeed do M&B, who are happy to acknowledge their debt to him. So why write another book covering the same terrain? The authors themselves say their goal was "to describe familiar events in a fresh way, drawing on recent scholarship and newly opened archives, and to throw a sharp beam on neglected or unknown figures and incidents". So they focus on the "the courage and brilliance of the Game's young principals, British or Russian", who were constantly being let down by their manipulative and incompetent superiors. This is, apparently, a "theme that resonates for Americans in this century".

The effort to resonate with the American reader is readily apparent, both by shoe-horning in American bit part players at every available opportunity, and by occasional irrelevant interpolations, such as a brief history of Russia's presence on the American west coast and an explanation of why dollar bills are decorated with weird cabalistic symbols.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By ANH on 19 May 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is not a bad book, but it is not a good one either. The main problem with it apart from appalling copy editing which has left it full of spelling errors, is that the authors have simply strung together a series of accounts of different adventures with little by way of linking narrative. It is competently written, but the writing lacks excitement and appears to have been drawn from readily available secondary sources. Worth a read as an introduction to the subject, but avoid it if you have read anything else - The Great Game by Hopkirk is a much better book.
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